NEWARK, N.J. – After New Jersey blew a two-goal lead in the final 7:15 of regulation, the undefeated Devils were even more determined in overtime.
Ilya Kovalchuk scored 4:39 into the extra session, and the Devils won their third straight game to start the lockout-shortened season, 3-2 over the winless Washington Capitals on Friday night.
“Overtime was great for us. We never gave up,” Kovalchuk said after the Devils outshot Washington 8-1 in the extra period. “I thought we were the better team. We had troubles with penalties in the third period, but we came through. We didn’t want to go to a shootout because anything can happen.”
The Russian star made sure the game didn’t get to the shootout by taking a cross-ice pass from defenceman Marek Zidlicky low in the left circle and beating Michal Neuvirth before the goalie could get over the cover the side of the net.
“I got a good angle with that shot,” Kovalchuk said. “The key thing was that we all had faith in the overtime.”
Rookie Washington coach Adam Oates, who had spent the last two seasons in New Jersey as an assistant, could only shake his head when asked about the game-winner.
“I’ve seen that before,” Oates said. “I used to like it.”
Stephen Gionta and Patrik Elias scored for the defending Eastern Conference champion Devils, who are off to their first 3-0 start since the 2002-03 season, the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
“We were very excited to start back up again,” said Martin Brodeur, who made 26 saves in the win. “We were very disappointed with the lockout. I just hope I can keep this going all year.
“When we left last year, we were disappointed, but it left us with a great taste in our mouths, the great taste of success. Now we’re jumping right back in and it’s like we never left. It’s a short season and we have to capitalize on our momentum.”
Mike Ribeiro and Mike Green scored for Washington to force overtime. The Capitals (0-3-1) became the last NHL team to earn a point this season.
“You have to take the positives,” Oates said. “The first question was you haven’t played for 60 minutes. We did tonight. There were a lot of growing pains, but the guys did their job. You obviously want the win but we did a lot of good things.”
Neuvirth finished with 32 saves. He was outstanding on the Devils’ power play in overtime, stopping five shots after Green was called for interference in the opening minute.
“I think we have a better idea after this game of how we can win,” said Ribeiro, who had Washington’s only shot against Brodeur in overtime.
It was a good one in close. Brodeur, who was within 7:15 of his 121st career shutout, made the save with his shoulder. The puck just missed the upper corner of the net.
Washington was seemingly out of the game, trailing 2-0, until the Devils took a couple of penalties in the final 10 minutes of regulation. The Capitals took advantage despite playing their second game in two nights.
Ribeiro cut the deficit in half with a slam-dunk goal from the edge of the crease while the Capitals enjoyed a two-man advantage.
Green, who was stopped on a great chance from between the circles in the opening minute, tied it with 2:56 left in the third period. Zidlicky failed to get the puck out of his zone, and Green beat Brodeur trough a screen with a shot from the right point for his first goal of the season.
Brodeur appeared headed for his second straight shutout, but it wasn’t to be.
The Capitals are off to their worst start since dropping six straight in the 1993-94 season. Washington recovered then and made the playoffs before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers in the second round.
The Devils didn’t have a lot of chances against Neuvirth early, but made the most of them.
Gionta gave the Devils the lead at 13:55 of the first period, just a second after an effective Capitals power play expired.
Defenceman Mark Fayne started the rush by poking the puck to Gionta at the blue line. He carried into centre ice and made a cross-ice pass to Jacob Josefson. Before being sandwiched by defenceman Tomas Kundratek and Troy Brouwer, the Swede swept the puck to Gionta, who beat Neuvirth one-on-one for his second career regular-season goal.
Washington nearly tied the game on a power play with roughly eight minutes left in the second. Ovechkin, who was moved back to left wing from right wing before the game, was stopped on a blue-line blast. Brodeur then turned away a backhand rebound attempt by Joel Ward, who had the primary assist on Ribeiro’s goal.
Elias stretched the Devils’ lead to 2-0 with a minute left in the second period when New Jersey had a 5-on-3 advantage. A shot from the point by Zidlicky hit the skate of teammate David Clarkson in front, and Elias put the rebound into a wide-open net.
NOTES: Brodeur finished with 26 saves. … The 3-0 start is the Devils’ best since they had the same mark in 2002. They won the Stanley Cup that season. … Washington rested defencemen Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik and played John Erskine and Jeff Schultz. …New Jersey played Krys Barch for the first time this season, resting Cam Janssen. … Washington was 1-for-8 on the power play. New Jersey was 1-for-6.